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Child Defender: Warren member earns award

Lt. Col. Vance Spath, 90th Space Wing staff judge advocate (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Daryl Knee).

Lt. Col. Vance Spath, 90th Space Wing staff judge advocate (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Daryl Knee).

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- A Warren Airman became the first military member to receive the Child Defender award March 24 in the base courtroom for his campaign to eliminate child pornography cases from Warren.

Lt. Col. Vance Spath, 90th Space Wing staff judge advocate, earned the National Law Center for Children and Families Child Defender award for March 2008.

This award is usually given to civilian law enforcement organizations and other groups for protecting children and for hampering child exploitation crimes. Rarely is the award given to an individual, and it has never been given to a military member.

"The effort that he put into the child [porn] issue was phenomenal, and it goes way beyond this base," said Honorable John Greene, United States Attorney in Wyoming. "When citizens see the Air Force uniform in the civilian court doing the right thing, it sends a real message out there. The people of the United States Air Force are serious about what their personnel do and how they handle it."

Colonel Spath and the 90th SW legal office fully investigate every suspected instance of child pornography possession and trafficking and prosecute suspects when necessary.

"In the United States Air Force, we have the increased capacity to investigate, to prosecute and to incarcerate, and we did exactly that," said Col. Mike Morgan, 90th SW commander.

"We have not had one single case since about this time last year, and that is in large part thanks to Lt. Col. Spath," he added.

In early 2007, the base was confronted with six child pornography cases. Working closely with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Wyoming and Internet Crimes Against Children organization, Colonel Spath provided thorough and just investigations, prosecutions and sentences.

"It's that cooperation between multiple agencies, and more significantly from the military sector to the civilian sector, that makes this award merited," said Richard Whidden, National Law Center for Children and Families executive director.

"Believe me, it's more than effort that goes into this and more people, more than just me," Colonel Spath said. "The entire legal office, past and present, really work hard on this."

Warren and the legal office still work closely with their civilian counterparts to ensure the evils of child pornography remain at the forefront of Airmen's minds.

"This crime will not go ignored. We will go after you. You can't hide from it," Colonel Morgan said. "We have an Internet Crimes Against Children task force just a couple miles outside our front gate. If you engage in that activity, you will be caught, you will be investigated, you will be prosecuted and you will be incarcerated."

Through education and deterrence, Colonel Spath and his legal office hope to inform Airmen about the crime and prevent Airmen from engaging in child pornography in the future.

"I'm in a really blessed position here. These people aren't going to go away in society, and that's okay. We find them and, when we're supposed to, prosecute them," Colonel Spath said.